Music

Auto-Mattic Transmission: Rapper Mattic Dispatches from the Left Field

Still from "Crimes of the Mind" video

The US-born rapper's at once expert and offhanded rhymes exude the kind of charm that has made Mattic a notable artist in his adopted home of France.

He flirted with the possibility of success back in 2004, when his rap group, The Others released their debut, Past Futuristic, an album of creamy, slick funk and well-oiled hip-hop grooves. It should have been the breakthrough it promised to be, the album a collection of contender-worthy numbers for the finicky music market. But cursed with indie-label limitations and nearly no press, the band dissolved just shortly before they could release more material for an already recorded full-length album. One of the founding members of the group, Mattic, as he is sometimes called, made the about-face turn to relocate to a country not especially known worldwide for its hip-hop culture: France.

His services requested by French DJ Wax Tailor, who's a fan of The Others, Mattic took the serendipitous opportunity to meet with the musician and work on a couple of tracks with him. The fortuitous occasion blossomed into a decade long relationship with France that has seen him through a number of projects, collaborative and solo.

Mattic's music refers to the D.A.I.S.Y Age era of hip-hop, when jazz samples provided the main hooks and rhymes were schemed over drum loops that nudged those toward the dance floors. Following an appearance on Wax Tailor's album In the Mood for Life (2009), the rapper got down to work with producer La Fine Equipe for a throbbing sonic excursion called Fantastic Planet (2010). Bold, brash and full of flashy grandeur, the album gives Mattic the enterprising platform he was afforded with his previous group The Others; his at once expert and offhanded rhymes exuding the kind of unabashed charm he would come to be known for in his future endeavours. The jaunty funk and smart grooves of Fantastic Planet went down well with French audiences, allowing the rapper to build his name on the back of this project. Now practiced in the craft of songwriting, Mattic began his work as an independent solo artist, honing material for a debut album.

Pulling from hip-hop, psychedelic rock, cocktail jazz and electronica, Mattic's solo debut, The Abstract Convention, presents hip-hop as a redirect to an outlying past of daisy chains, '60s sci-fi, tweed suits and Dexter Gordon's Parisian period. It was judiciously put together and offers something fresh that's not often heard in hip-hop. Numbers like the string-laden "Before I Caught a Train" find a strange intersection between the bluesy phychedelia of The Yardbirds and the cool, strutting rhythms of A Tribe Called Quest. Other tracks display a sparkling charisma of champagne-soaked jazz and loungey, ringing beats, such as the breezy, effervescent "We Met in Paris". Such numbers point the way toward what is possibly Mattic's greatest opus thus far, The Adventures of Doctor Outer.

Marshall Amp by tookapic (Pixabay License / Pixabay)

For his second solo effort, Mattic shifted into the sunnier quarters of pop music to infuse his hip-hop with a set of juicer, sweeter melodies. Reportedly based on a strange encounter with a fan backstage, who claimed to be from outer-space, The Adventures of Doctor Outer expands on the themes of sci-fi, which the rapper flirted with on his debut. The album features an even heavier production, trading in much of the acid jazz grooves for ghettoblasting boom-bap. It's an even tighter, more focused effort that aims for both radio and underground play. The elegant trills of numbers like "The Late Show" sit comfortably next to lushly banging tunes like the skronking title-track and the locomotive "Storms Over Windmills". Swanky, lustrous and sculpted with the deft hand of a skilled practitioner, The Adventures of Doctor Outer shows how hip-hop can get down and dirty in the bassy quagmires of low-end boom-bap and still gleam with vibrant colour.

A number of collaborative one-offs followed his sophomore release before the interstitial pit-stop of Fly & Nowhere 2 Go, an EP of booming, pugilist hip-hop that sees a return to the chewier funk of The Others. Stepping up his glove game, Mattic flexes the leaner muscles of his songwriting to present a rapper who can throw down just as hard as any other MC laying down rhymes. Compact yet explosive, Fly & Nowhere 2 Go gives Mattic the opportunity to flip the script once more, which he also does on his latest, Plush, a mixtape co-produced with Wun Two and co-written with Yago. Borrowing from the dreamier extractions of pop music - and still using boom-bap as a touchstone - Plush also employs the airy, lush textures of ambient pop to draw wide-reaching extremes together in a heady brew of head-nodding bangers. Bluesy slams like "UFO" give a dubious genre like trap music a hard knock upside its head, while numbers like "House in the Hills", with its walking bassline and finger-snapping jazz riff, return the listener to hip-hop's golden age.

With unending effort, Mattic continues to record music, even in the most strained of circumstances. Still without a major label backing him or a distribution deal, he's a prime example of how much – and how successfully – you can create, when you are short on resources but long on imagination.

Please tell me about your life growing up, and how you were introduced to music, particularly hip-hop.

I grew up an only child, so my imagination became my best friend quickly. This imagination embodied my two joys that I was introduced to very early in life, which was toys and music. Although both of my parents were not musically inclined, they played and listened to so much music in the house and car that I was never without it. Mainly soul and '80s rock music.

My first experience of music was a Disney 45 record player with a Kool and the Gang 45 record ("Summer Madness"). I loved this thing. As I grew older, I was introduced to hip-hop from watching Sugar Hill Gang perform live on Soul Train. I instantly fell in love with hip-hop and dancing. But what made me want to actually rap was LL Cool J's "Rock the Bells". After hearing this song I slowly, through the years, crafted myself into a MC.

You're an American who grew up with American musical influences - and then went to Europe. Having worked with French DJs/artists like Wax Tailor, you're better known in Europe. Of course, you're also based in France. How do you think your move to France influences your work? What are you doing in France that adds to your music that you don't think could happen in the States?

Yes, I live in France. I have been living here for ten years. I've also been working with Wax Tailor for ten years. I wouldn't say I'm more "known" but music is my job... my only job and I work it at a higher rate than, say, in the US.

My move [to France] still deeply influences my music. I haven't quite gotten over the shock and excitement of living in a foreign land so it plays very much into my creating. France is so amazing and beautiful to me, so I appreciate my surrounding.

Life is good. I make tons of my own music (not yet released), compose and tour with Wax Tailor, feature with some other artists, tour with a couple of other groups, and do lots of publishing music for television, radio, movies, etc.

Your first proper album was The Abstract Convention. Please tell me how you came to write and record that album and what the experience of that was like. Also, what kinds of themes were you exploring on that album?

When I lived in the States I never had a lab (studio) to work in. It was always at one of my friend's house, and, out of respect for their space, I never could really stay and work as long as I wanted to, or do all the things I wanted at most of their places. But when I moved to France my wife and me built us a studio in our place and it's been another world that I can be trapped in for weeks.

The Abstract Convention was made during a period whem my wife was introducing me to classical and more '60s and '70s rock albums and documentaries. I never forget about home in the States when it comes to music production. My friends, to this day, I consider some of the best beatmakers and composers I have listened to and personally know.

During this period it was The Dirty Art Club (Madwreck & Cagle) who had just formed and I was getting beats from them. Their beats instantly grabbed me because they were psychedelic rock and hip-hop based, so it was new to me. The album was influenced from my exposure to groups such as The Shaggs, The Doors, The Beatles, Mort Garson, Led Zeppelin, Joseph Haydn, and Goldfrapp. It's my fusion album, influenced from everything outside of jazz, soul and hip-hop. It's really left field-type of stuff.

As far as the writing, well, I wrote and recorded the album in France, Canada, and Switzerland for two years with my man Stab formally of the group, Berry Weight. I like to take my time on most things, whether they hit or miss. It's all about the energy and artful moments available to catch in arm's reach of the experience. I was also watching a lot of the television series, for example like The Wire (revisited) and Sex and the City (don't laugh), and strange films in particular by David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, so they played a part in the context of some topics on the album.

Your follow-up, The Adventures of Doctor Outer, seems to point toward Sam Rivers/Andrew Hill-era jazz, science-fiction and psychology as the main influences, with, of course, hip-hop being the foundation of the album's sound. Tell us about themes of The Adventures of Doctor Outer. Who is Doctor Outer and what kinds of things are you saying with this album?

Doctor Outer Is me. The album was my way of telling my adventures in Europe in the most symbolic and abstract way I could. The fiction but nonfiction story of the album is based on meeting a guy (supposedly from space) after a show in France who told me his life and travels throughout the world. It was produced by The Mighty DR, a beatmaker/friend from back in the States. I used beats I had collected from him ranging from the late '90s, and the early mid-'00s.

This is also where my artistic works changed, as I wanted my album from here on out to be a nonstop continuation from beginning to end, as well as co-producing it. Adding things into the beats, like vocal samples and sounds. I started to pay very close attention to my vocals, exploring different effects, delays, and echoes.

This album was influenced by Marvin Gaye, Bruce Haack, Weather Report, Madlib, Dilla, Earth Wind & Fire, Joe Johnson, Herbie Hancock and the orbit above our heads. It's a hip-hop journey into the vortex hole of the soul. It also took two years to make in the same places, France, Canada, and Switzerland, with Stab. Another left fielder, it is my comfort zone.

What are you doing with your music that differentiates you from other hip-hop artists?

I don't know. I take from what I love and transform it into me dressed in sound. I don't do music for the benefits it brings me. That's not even a thought. I do it because I just can't stop doing it. It's my personal expression that maybe just doesn't work better through simply talking. I like to make people think or make them envision what they are listening to.

I'm going to be me. I shy away from the light of attention, I don't like everything or everybody musical, and I stay connected to the golden age of hip-hop in the strangest way I can. But the things, people and places I fall in love with coat everything.

You were in a group called The Others and released one album with them, Past Futuristic. It was on a small label and didn't get enough promotion. What do you remember about being in that group?

The learning about music, brotherhood, unit, MCing, styles, making music together and learning about yourself. It all transitions to where we are today. And the fun. Those were the golden days. I appreciated those times.

You also released an EP called Fly and Nowhere 2 Go in 2017, which was made while you waited for your son to be born. This is the last release, I believe, to be released before your son's birth. Is your work different after fatherhood?

Yeah, it is with releases, and it is and ain't with fatherhood. No, I can't have those 6AM to 6AM music days and nights anymore, and always work around my son's schedule. But my wife also gives me the spaces to work when I have to, or when I get that undeniable surge that has to come out. So I can't complain – just manage my time and energy.

You plan to release your latest album Plush, along with a mini-movie which will accompany the album. First of all, what kinds of themes are you exploring on Plush? And second, what is this mini-movie about?

Well, it's a mixtape with one producer's music, as it wasn't made to be released. My man Ike (Yago), who is from Charlotte North Carolina, flies over once or twice a year to chill. We always record a project just to make some dope shit we would like to hear these days. We just record a round of songs in a day and then I go back and add things and rearrange everything, from vocals to beats.

This time I was listening to a lot of Wun Two's (out of Germany) beats. We selected from three albums and just got drunk and rhymed over them. Once he left, I started to create different stages of the songs, which I shared with Ike, adding in a range of various elements, including vocal effects. I just made a spontaneous chain reaction of sound adventures. Kinda like how the brain works inwardly or the beginning of every Marvel Comics movie when the pages run down. Breaking the rules for art's sake...I call it "The Ghost in the Machine".

It wasn't made with the thought of being released to the public. But after listening to it repeatedly, we decided to just drop it for free and make something artful and fun out of it. Good music. It's like The Pharcyde meets Edan, meets Slum Village meets Madlib. But it's us. Just a mixtape that's out there.

Not sure what the theme will be for the mini-movie. Animation meets two brothers, MCs from the States living in France... we'll see.

I'm noticing a lot of sci-fi references in your work: the album cover for The Others' Past Futuristic, the concepts/themes of both The Abstract Convention and The Adventures of Doctor Outer, as well as tracks off of We Left With No Expectations ("3 UFOs", and "Razor Blades (Area 51")), and your work on the Fantastic Planet album. Please tell us about the sci-fi influences in your music. What are some of your inspirations that have come from science-fiction (either films or books)?

Nothing. I guess I never thought about that. Damn... I do make a lot of space effects and use spacey sounds. But it feels better to just be yourself, which is all I'm doing. That's just how I feel inside, so it comes out; it's my pocket. Leaving earth in the alien adventure of thinking and traveling and living in Europe. It's boring on earth. Let's go to the next level while being trapped on earth.

I used to watch a lot of sci-fi stuff, but I don't have time these days. I'll say it's just my feeling and ear of things.

Do you find it difficult to tour or book shows, being that you are living in France and an independent artist? Do you miss the US, particularly North Carolina, where you're originally from?

I've been touring for over ten years in France. I do so many features and other outlets that have given me the freedom to explore myself and what I do in music and life. It magically works, but when you do what you love, you don't notice it as "work". I work pretty much every day in some kind of way that benefits me musically and creatively. I'm not much of an attention-seeker and shy away from the spotlight. I need peace of mind. It'll find its way, [my unreleased music].

It's like, "Yeah... but no," when dealing with releasing stuff! So I'm working and riding the wave, seeing where it goes. Sure, I miss the States. Family, I would say, is what I miss most, but I'm fine where I am. I can't describe in the correct words and format how it feels to live in France. It's very nice... very.

What new music is on the horizon? Do you have plans for more work in hip-hop, as your last full album was released in 2013?

We will see. I have many, many projects I have created in my studio. But for a while, I lost the energy to release to the public my own stuff. As of now, I have been working with Pitch 92 (who's from the UK) for four years on stuff, and we hope to release something together soon, which is very hip-hop centred. I'm also currently working with Matt Cagle, who is now Dirty Art Club himself, on my solo records, which have a Tarantino-style movie soundtrack feel to it.

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